Chicago is the most important railroad center in North America. More lines of track radiate in more directions from Chicago than from any other city. Chicago has long been the most important interchange point for freight traffic between the nation’s major railroads and it is the hub of Amtrak, the intercity rail passenger system. Chicago ranks second (behind New York City) in terms of the volume of commuter rail passengers carried each day.
The first railroad in Chicago was the Galena & Chicago Union, which was chartered in 1836 to build tracks to the lead mines at Galena in northwestern Illinois. The first tracks were laid in 1848, and then not to Galena but to a point known as Oak Ridge (now Oak Park ). The Galena & Chicago Union’s terminal stood near the corner of Canal and Kinzie Streets.
Other railroads soon completed lines of track linking Chicago with the wheat fields of northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin. Later lines connected the city with Detroit, Cleveland, Cincinnati, New Orleans, St. Louis, Kansas City, Omaha, and St. Paul. Railroads were especially important as haulers of grain and livestock, which helped Chicago gain a primary role in the grain marketing and meatpacking industries.
Many of the railroads built west of Chicago had their corporate headquarters in the city, as well as yards and shops. Chicago became a center for the manufacture of freight cars, passenger cars (Pullman Company), and, later diesel locomotives (Electro-Motive Division of General Motors, in La Grange ).